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Veterinary Forum June 2007 (Vol 24, No 6)

Business Skills: Picking an accountant: choices and challenges

by Louis Gatto, CPA

    Editor's Note: In this issue, we introduce Lou Gatto, an accountant and consultant who has served members of the veterinary profession for years. Here, Lou discusses hiring an accountant for your practice. Please welcome him to our team.—Stephen Fisher, DVM, Column Editor

    Your financial team isn't complete without an accountant. As a key business adviser, your accountant can play a significant part in your financial success, and you should choose this person carefully. Keep in mind that you are looking to establish a long-term relationship with someone who will become a trusted adviser on major financial decisions and business transactions. You want someone who will learn about your practice.

    Your main considerations when searching for an accountant should focus on competence, compatibility, familiarity with the type of work you need performed, familiarity with the veterinary industry and costs.

    What you should expect?

    An accountant's competence is essential to your business success. You want the financial statements, budgets, management reports, tax returns, valuations and other reports you receive to be accurate and timely. In addition, your accountant should be able to explain the meaning of financial reports to your understanding. This is akin to your explaining complex medical information so that your clients can understand their pet's treatment.

    We accountants are not known to be the most charming, refreshing people, but don't overlook the value of personality and attitude. Make sure your accountant is someone you respect and whose style is compatible with yours.

    You must determine the scope of work that you expect the accountant to handle. If you just require financial statements or tax return preparation, you can look for a general accountant. However, if you need more complex advice, such as a valuation of your practice or assistance with your business plan, you will need a more experienced and specialized accountant.

    An additional consideration is whether you should choose a certified public accountant (CPA). Many people do not know how a CPA is different from a bookkeeper, accountant or tax preparer. The CPA designation is a highly trusted professional designation. CPAs have stringent qualification requirements, licensing requirements and professional ethics.

    When searching for an accountant, you may discover that it takes extra effort to find one who understands the veterinary industry and its management, financial and tax issues. This industry is small, and not many accountants specialize in it. You need someone who understands your practice management software; your professional services, staffing and occupancy costs; and the value of your practice. Depending on what you want, you may also rely on that person to assist in the analysis of management information and the purchase or sale of your practice, to help you decide whether to purchase or lease a new digital radiography machine or to calculate associate compensation formulas. The type of accountant you choose should be based on the advice you need.

    When it comes to costs, the accounting industry is not much different than the veterinary industry. Several factors influence what you will pay:

    • where your business and accountant are located;
    • the type of work you need performed; and
    • the type of accountant performing the work.

    When you know what you are looking for, you can begin to concentrate your search. Now is the time to gather recommendations. Ask the other members of your financial team who they recommend, and speak with your colleagues about accountants they know and trust. You can also turn to the Association of Veterinary Practice Management Consultants & Advisors website (avpmca.org), which is a good referral resource for an accountant versed in the veterinary industry.

    Once you have located a few potential accountants, schedule interviews with them. Meeting each prospect in person will help you determine whether you are comfortable with him or her and also give you the opportunity to ask several questions.

    • To what professional organizations does the accountant belong, and how active is he or she in them?
    • In what areas of financial consulting does he or she specialize?
    • Will he or she be able to help you as your business grows?

    You also should ask for each accountant's references — and check them. Make sure you inquire about the references' satisfaction with service, competence and costs.

    What is your outlook?

    Finding the perfect accountant for your practice may require some research. However, by knowing what you need done, who to look for and where to look, you can find an accountant you can rely on for many years.

    NEXT: Clinical Report: "Update on heartworm infection"


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